Oscars: How many acting lineups have only included rookies?

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Throughout the 96-year history of the Academy Awards, the amount of acting lineups consisting only of first-time nominees has reached 37, or about 10% of the overall total. While that number may not seem high in a general sense, these cases actually outnumber those exclusively involving veteran contenders by a ratio of three to one. However, although this list expanded as recently as 2023, rookie-only acting lineups are gradually becoming less common than veteran-only ones, the amount of which has nearly doubled within the last dozen years.

Whereas 75% of veteran-only acting quintets have involved lead performers rather than supporting ones, almost the exact opposite is true of lineups full of newcomers. For instance, only one existing case of the former kind concerns supporting actresses, whereas the same category has produced 15 rookie-only rosters. The last such group consisted of 2000 winner Angelina Jolie (“Girl, Interrupted”) and nominees Toni Collette (“The Sixth Sense”), Catherine Keener (“Being John Malkovich”), Samantha Morton (“Sweet and Lowdown”), and Chloë Sevigny (“Boys Don’t Cry”), who were directly preceded by the 1996 bunch led by victor Mira Sorvino (“Mighty Aphrodite”).

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Along with Gale Sondergaard (“Anthony Adverse,” 1937), Estelle Parsons (“Bonnie and Clyde,” 1968), Goldie Hawn (“Cactus Flower,” 1970), and Anjelica Huston (“Prizzi’s Honor,” 1986), Jolie belongs to a minority of champions who emerged from said 15 situations and were lucky enough to earn subsequent acting bids. The same is true in only three of 12 corresponding male cases: Walter Brennan (“Come and Get It,” 1937), Karl Malden (“A Streetcar Named Desire,” 1952), and Kevin Spacey (“The Usual Suspects,” 1996). Spacey, who went on to win Best Actor for “American Beauty” (2000) against three other veterans, was part of his supporting category’s most recent all-rookie lineup, which further consisted of James Cromwell (“Babe”), Ed Harris (“Apollo 13”), Brad Pitt (“12 Monkeys”), and Tim Roth (“Rob Roy”).

The Best Actress category has only ever seen four such sets of nominees, the last of which included 1971 victor Glenda Jackson (“Women in Love”) and challengers Jane Alexander (“The Great White Hope”), Ali MacGraw (“Love Story”), Sarah Miles (“Ryan’s Daughter”), and Carrie Snodgress (“Diary of a Mad Housewife”). They were preceded by the groups from 1929, spring 1930, and 1934, the first and last of which each consisted of only three women rather than the standard five.

Five of the initial seven Best Actor lineups – specifically, all of the first four (1929-1931) plus 1935 – included no veterans, with 1932 co-winners Wallace Beery (“The Champ”; formerly of “The Big House,” 1930) and Fredric March (“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”; “The Royal Family of Broadway,” 1931) being the very first repeaters. The 1935 group made up of Clark Gable (“It Happened One Night”), Frank Morgan (“The Affairs of Cellini”), and William Powell (“The Thin Man”) were memorably followed a staggering 88 years later by the leading men of 2023: winner Brendan Fraser (“The Whale”) and nominees Austin Butler (“Elvis”), Colin Farrell (“The Banshees of Inisherin”), Paul Mescal (“Aftersun”), and Bill Nighy (“Living”).

As it happens, six of the most recent eight supporting actor and actress lineups have come close to being added to this list but each failed to meet eligibility because of a single veteran member, such as 2023’s Judd Hirsch (“The Fabelmans”) or 2024’s Jodie Foster (“Nyad”). The truth is, as long as the members of the academy’s acting branch understandably continue to frequently gravitate toward their reliable favorites, the list is going to essentially (if not literally) remain stagnant.

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